With Marquette at match point in a tense fourth set, freshman outside hitter Autumn Bailey soared above the net to smack down a kill.
On the other side of the net, Xavier sophomore outside hitter McKayla Agin rose up to block her. Agin missed her block, but the Musketeers’ defense kept the ball alive. When Agin came down, her right foot slid across the center line. The line judge blew his whistle, the home bench exploded and Marquette volleyball (23-5, 15-1 Big East) were Big East champions for the first time in program history.
“It’s been an awesome season so far,” Bailey said. “I’m still shaking right now. It’s just been awesome. Our team has come together and grown so much over the season.”
When the final whistle blew, Marquette coach Bond Shymansky jumped into the air and pumped his fist. He then embraced his assistant coaches, Jason Allen and Jackie Simpson, before joining his team in celebration on the court. For Shymansky, the victory was a culmination of five years of hard work.
“When I came here five years ago, I knew it could be done,” he said. “Marquette is such a special place. Our building, the facility, the support around the program and the athletic department, I knew it could be done.”
During the post-game ceremony, senior captains Julie Jeziorowski and Elizabeth Koberstein took the championship trophy and triumphantly raised it over their heads. Jeziorowski said this championship was about more than just the members of the current team.
“I just talked to Ciara Jones and she said ‘I want a picture with you guys, this is our team,’” Jeziorowski said. “She’s right. It’s not about the 18 girls that are on the roster right now, it’s about everyone that has been here with Bond … the girls before us made us who we are.”
However, Jeziorowski did give credit to her 2013 teammates.
“This year, we let ourselves get a little messy,” she said. “Sometimes when things aren’t going our way, we find a way. It doesn’t have to be the right way, but we always want to get it done.”
That was certainly the case this weekend, when the Golden Eagles gritted out tight set after tight set for a pair of four set victories over Xavier and Butler. Friday, Bailey was firing on all cylinders and finished with a game-high 26 kills.
“I just tried to play like myself,” Bailey said. “I tried not to put too much pressure on myself and just think of it as another game. I had a good mindset about the game, and didn’t do anything I don’t usually do.”
After winning the first two sets, Marquette lost its momentum after the intermission and Xavier dominated the third set. The fourth set was heading the same way until junior right side hitter Lindsey Gosh ripped off four kills in a row to give the Golden Eagles a late lead. Gosh finished with 13 kills overall.
“That was awesome, especially because she was getting kill after kill,” Bailey said. “Then they started keying on her and she was still getting kill after kill.”
On senior night Saturday, the Golden Eagles battled with Butler in a match where none of the four sets were decided by more than three points. Marquette dropped the second set but narrowly won both frames after the break to finish off the regular season on a high note.
“We talked to our group about playing for the seniors on senior night, and that’s great,” Shymansky said. “But you’re really playing to set new records inside the program. A program-best 15-1 record is awesome.”
As a result of the weekend’s wins, Marquette snuck into the AVCA top 25 for the first time in 2013 at No. 24.
The Golden Eagles have another chance at a title next weekend, as they take on Butler in the semifinals of the Big East Tournament at Creighton. An important rematch with the Bluejays or Xavier looms in the championship match.
“We know that there’s still a ton of volleyball left in front of us,” Shymansky said. “All of it’s going to feel like that, tight matches, tight moments where we’ve got to produce and deliver. I’m confident our team is going to continue along that pace.”